Amanda Martinez

Amanda Martinez lives and works in Ridgewood, Queens, NY. Originally from Greenville, South Carolina, Martinez received her BFA from Kansas City Art Institute in 2010 where she studied both sculpture and painting. Her recent solo show, ‘Soft Power’ at Platform Gallery in Baltimore, MD was reviewed in Bmore Art and ArtFCity. Her 2014 solo show ‘Principle of the Thing’ with Daylight Savings Gallery in Brooklyn, NY was an ArtCards editor’s choice and featured in LA-based ‘Carets and Sticks’. She was recently interviewed by Mist Gallery, based out of Richmond, VA, coinciding with her work in their group exhibition, ‘Over Spun’. In 2011 she was awarded a year-long studio residency in Kansas City, Missouri through the Charlotte Street Foundation and completed a residency in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico this past spring. Her work has also been featured on the Idea Foundation and in The Kansas City Star. She has shown in solo and group exhibitions in New York, Baltimore, Kansas City and Los Angeles over the past five years.


My work stems from a formal interest in props and design, specifically the grey area where these objects blur with the traditional conversation of sculpture. Early experiences with music and performance drew me to set design and the idea of stand-ins, or objects that are meant to give the impression of being something else.

My decision to look to and work against abstraction, minimalism, nature, or a darkened theater is a decision to seek out similarities amidst discord. These things are all examples of one idea: an enveloping work of totality that is still incomplete and open enough that you must somehow participate.

While deeply rooted in academia, abstraction can be a numinous soup and I’m interested in validating this fuzzy aspect of the relationship. At what point is an object active or merely a prop? Our culture puts more pressure on sculpture to be “doing something” than ever before. I actively strive for my work to be inactive in the atypical sense: not to be viewed as neutral, but aggressively speaking in a quiet, persistent voice.

Q&A with Amanda Martinez
by Emily Burns

Hi Amanda! Can you give us some insight into your process? How do you begin and how do you create your compositions?
Hi Emily! So I'm either starting to sculpt blindly or from a vague drawing. I don't really like the idea of “planning” because I think when it comes to making sculpture that idea can slant very quickly toward “designing” something and I'm uninterested in that. It's feeling “made” versus feeling “constructed”. And sometimes the start comes from something even more vague than a drawing: a feeling or a sound. But I've found that once I begin to rough out composing that idea, everything else in my life feels related. I'll read something here, listen to something there and then I'm just all wrapped up in making that thing. And the sculptures tend to come in multiples from slow, over-arcing trains of thought. Like right now everything is driven by a general idea I've been investigating for some time, but its points of focus keep shifting and hopefully getting more refined. My process is pretty simple, but can feel chaotic at times because I firmly believe in just working everyday until something feels right.

Does drawing play a part in your process?
They're usually very quick, crude things if I'm trying to figure out how to put something together. But once in a while I will be compelled to just set out to make a drawing for the sake of working out some forms. If I'm really into them; they get turned into hand-cut stencils that I use for painting textile surfaces or for carving. But it's ironic because some of the things that are driving my work right now are very much flat and on paper; notations and manuscripts that you can read as drawings. I love the act of drawing but am increasingly uninterested in drawing as representation. I'm more intrigued by a drawing giving clues or looking past and into something on an intimate level, whatever that may be.

Are you using any particular digital or fabrication tools?
Well I actually recently gained access to a laser cutter through special circumstances, so I've been experimenting with plugging simple drawings into that and cutting wood with them. But I still don't know how I feel about the work that I've made with it. And I've made rules for myself with the way that I will use the laser cutter. Then there's a comparison happening between what my hands do, and what this device does.

In general, I'm not big on technology. I'm more about the human machine. It's an odd, self-made moral code I have. I like looking to old technologies, simple science and nature whenever I can. Even the internet itself... I prefer to use it as a tool and keep it in the background, not as a font of inspiration. I definitely think the internet can give authorship to people, especially those who might not enjoy freedom of expression elsewhere; but I think nature can give you a feeling of empowerment as well. Basically, I think it's important to acknowledge what synthetic things I enjoy but to also make sure that the creative energy I pull from is coming from a place of substance. My needing to make things is just that: a personal, physical and poetic relationship with materials.

Can you talk about the importance of color in your work? How do you achieve specific colors?
Since the forms themselves often consist of repetition or accumulation, I like simplicity with color and am usually just coating things rather than painting on their surface. I also like playing with the optical effects that can happen when you spray on lower or higher built surface areas; much like contouring with makeup or painting impressionistic scrims for the stage. The foam, wood and fibrous materials all have a beautiful way of just completely soaking up whatever you coat or dye them with. And I like my palette to be a balance of natural and synthetic colors. I often look to types of paint to achieve the “coatings” I want straight out of the can with the addition of mediums and sealants or laquer. But with dye I am very conscious of having it be a customized recipe or the result of a lot of experimentation. And the best part is, sometimes the naturally-made colors look the most synthetic and vice versa.

You mention your interest in the object as a prop—do you have a specific or semi-specific idea of a scene or scenario where each work might function as a prop or stand-in?
I tend to think of them as “props” in the context of traditional sculptural materials and conversation. As in, some of them have “back sides” and all of them confront the idea of perhaps being made of something else. I like mystery, like the way that props look different close up and far away on a stage. A scenario would be more of an immersive installation context, I think; where the language I'm using with the foam helps “prop” up one piece to the next as a whole. Installation is definitely something I would really like to get back into at this point.

I have worked as a set and prop designer, and I was always interested in where the props or objects ended up after they served their purpose in the film or play, or whatever it might be. Does the transition of the object as prop from functional to non-functional interest you? 

It definitely did at a certain point. A few years back I made a lot of sculptures using pulleys and weights and tension that were between that point of actively functioning as something and not. But they were all carved imitations of something else. I think at this point I'm less interested in imitation or action and more interested in the kind of “function” that sculptures have on a simple level, like how they interact with our space and how we view and value materials and their “functions”.

What is a typical day like for you?
I have two types of days: 3-4 days a week I work at a lighting design company in Long Island City, Queens making shades for custom light fixtures. It's nice to work with my hands but also have it be something completely unrelated to the art world. I used to do fabrication for some big artists but it started to feel like a slippery slope, so I mostly stay away from it now. Some of those workdays I go to studio at night, since it's also close by in LIC. The other nights after work I try to dedicate to documentation, looking at opportunities and just being a functioning human being. Then the other 3-4 days a week I get up early and go to my studio. I'm so thrilled to be able to work just enough at a flexible job to maximize my studio time.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you have overcome as an artist so far in your career?
I've been fortunate to not have any big obstacles other than some patches here and there being without “proper” studio space. It's hard as a sculptor, but that never stops me from working... I feel like I've worked in spaces everywhere from my parents' garage to a glorified closet to my bedroom to a warehouse at this point. Sometimes you just have to make do and keep pushing.

Can you describe your studio space? What are your most important workspace essentials?
I keep my studio as open as possible. I like being able to really see things I'm working on. I have one corner of raw materials which I buy in quantity with a cargo van every so often because I sold my car when I moved to NY; and you can only carry things one at a time with bungee cords like an insane pack-mule on the subway for so long! I have a collapsible table with metal sawhorses for legs. I have all my power and hand tools and everything on one wall so there's nothing on the floor except a shop vac and one rolling cart with essentials I can take around with me. That thing is really a life saver and back saver. Some essentials I keep on it are all my most commonly-used hand tools like knives for carving, glue and sandpaper; as well as my headphones. I also keep my rollerskates in my studio... for when the mood strikes.

What do you listen to while you work? Is this an important part of your practice?
Yes! Music is extremely important to my practice, in more ways than one. I love all kinds of music and have an insatiable appetite for it. I studied piano and music theory pretty seriously when I was younger so that kind of discipline is always in the back of my head. Also it's a strong conceptual force for what I make, whether I reference it directly or use it as a guide of sorts.

Right now I'm listening to a lot of this period of medieval secular music called 'Ars Subtillier' by different composers which is really a driving force behind what I'm making right now. It's incredible stuff. And there's this Argentinian jazz quartet called 'OMVR' that are killer. They're young and smart musicians. And when it gets late or I've gotta keep myself pumped up to carve, I will always turn on dance music. I loved dj-ing back in art school, so electro and Italo disco are my faves... Right now I'm playing Lindstrom and Bottin. And it's so good to skate to!

Has there ever been a book/essay/poem/film/etc that totally changed or influenced you? What are you reading right now?
A year or two ago, I was given the journals of Myron Stout. His writing (and work) is so thoughtful and each entry has this altruistic simplicity and honesty that was overwhelming. He painted his best work in a tiny one-bedroom apartment and wrote about the artist's life in a way that I haven't been so moved by since.

I honestly don't read a lot of artist's bios or writings. I like reading theory now and then, but mostly I stick to fiction and poetry. Right now I'm reading Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme.

I can't get enough of film so I can't single out just one that influenced me. The last film I watched was The Red Shoes from 1948. It's a gorgeous technicolor based on the Hans Christian Andersen story about a girl who dances herself to death. It has a ballet within a movie about making the ballet and uses a lot of great devices and trickery of the stage.

What are some of the artists that you look at / feel that your work is in dialogue with?
In the scale of things, there just aren't a lot of emerging or established artists who use foam directly, so I tend to look at wood carvers and ceramicists. But of course there's Tara Donavan and also the way Shirley Tse deals with the materiality. And recently, some of the work of Lauren Clay. Right as I was really first delving into carving in undergrad, Folkert de Jong was blowing up. And he's a force. But I'm ultimately pursuing a different intention with the material.

I'll always enjoy the work of Petah Coyne, Barbara Hepworth, Richard Tuttle, Annie Albers, Rosemarie Trockel and Myron Stout.

Also I feel like if you're a female sculptor using nontraditional materials, Eva Hesse is this special ghost hovering in the corner of your studio that you just have to give an offering to.

Do you have any advice for recent grads that are looking for teaching jobs, transitioning out of graduate school, or looking to begin their career as studio artists?
It's a bit naïve, but I've always believed that if you just keep working everyday and talking to people about it, that's half the battle. School is school, and while it's great to get an education, I don't think it has all the answers. There's a lot of murkiness afterward, but just start trying to make connections while you're still there and maintain those.

I definitely don't know anything about getting teaching jobs because it's not something I focused on in undergrad, though my friends that do teach started out assistant-teaching classes and continuing ed back then. And as far as beginning your career, the most important thing is to just keep making work. Everyday. It seems like a dumb thing to say a second time, but I really feel like that's number one. Make work that you give 100% to, get a job that doesn't totally suck you of your mental and physical energy, and talk to people about what you're doing. Reach out to friends and old professors. People who are a few to 5 years ahead of you and doing work that you're excited about are the best resource. Even if you don't know them well and are as shy as I am, just reach out. And go to openings. As much as possible. Even though the art world is competitive, at the end of the day, we all care about and want the same things and have the same obstacles, so starting a conversation with other artists should feel like coming home from the rest of the world.

What is the best recent exhibition you have seen?
That's a hard one... there's so much going on all the time. I guess I'd have to say

Zachary Leener at Lisa Cooley a few months back. That one has stuck with me for some time. His latest work is killer and the curation was also spot-on.

How do you stay involved in exhibitions and get your work out there?
In some respects, I've been lucky up until this point to have artist friends who are also curators or who know curators who have believed in my work and have just given me solo shows. Also, in spite of not being a fan of technology, my website and Instagram have been surprisingly useful in getting opportunities with minimal effort on my end. Again, just trying to have good images. Now that I've been out of undergrad almost six years, I apply to opportunities for shows and/or residencies pretty consistently every month. Because I don't have an MFA and am unsure if I want to pursue one, it can be more competitive; but at this point I want to continue meeting people and pursuing my relationship with NYC itself and residencies elsewhere as an MFA alternative.

What is your relationship to social media as an artist?
Well, it's complicated. I'm the age that suddenly had MySpace in high school and didn't have Facebook until college, so I still use Facebook as a weird personal/public catch-all with things that I'm doing or thinking about. It's perfect for openings and events. But Instagram is great. It's super easy to just post good images of your work and get conversations going with people around the world who are into it. You don't have to be some charismatic model citizen. You can just work hard. It's so democratic – I love it.

Do you have any exciting news or shows coming up?
I will be in a two-person online exhibition in March and some “offline” things tba summer/fall.

Thanks so much for sharing your work and talking with us!
Thanks so much for the opportunity!

To find out more about Amanda and her work, check out her website.